Date night

Hass steps up to the plate and finds a willing partner

DAVID HASSALL

OurGarage

FIRST dates are exciting. Venturing into the unknown with an air of expectation tempered by the fear of being disappointed, though still coloured by an over-riding feeling of anticipation.

But even more exciting is the first sleepover. Youíve done all the ritual dances, felt each other out, worked out you want more, and suddenly itís time to take the next big step. Itís delicious.

Itís the same with long-term test cars.

Youíve given each other the once-over, checked out all the controls, worked out which buttons to push and when, realised that you must get to know this car better, and that means something more intimate than your regular commute.

Thatís how it was after taking over the deep red Mazda CX-3 from Byron last month.

We did the daily grind and Iíd gone as far as I We did the daily grind and Iíd gone as far as I could to understand this dusky newcomer. It was time for the automotive equivalent of a night together.

One evening while it was still light we headed for the hills and beyond, out towards the Bunyip State Park, where I knew the roads would be quiet. Up hills and down again, sweeping through endless turns, dealing with the occasional switchback and racing back up to speed again.

To be honest, our first Ďdateí a few weeks earlier had not been too encouraging. Iíd immediately been struck by road noise and engine harshness under load, common characteristics in cars from weight-obsessed Mazda. Subsequent drives Ė as so often is the case Ė lessened these issues because noise intrusion simply isnít as noticeable when you fill the cabin with music.

Despite the extra weight of AWD, the 2.0-litre CX-3ís performance is sparkling, especially compared with the conceptually similar Renault Captur that preceded it in my garage. I never felt wanting for more.

garage. I never felt wanting for more.

I was also delighted with the autoís gear-selection regime Ė it really was close to perfect, without the need to use Sport mode Ė the ESC barely intervened and there was no problem with left-foot braking (a major issue with most other makes these days). You want to trail-brake while gunning the throttle on exit? No problem. Clearly, Mazdaís software engineers know a thing or two about driving.

With the carís sure-footed grip, breaking into mild understeer when youíve overdone it slightly, those sweeping turns melded into one another like jelly, making brisk progress a breeze.

With very comfy seats, a compliant suspension with good bump control, effective ventilation system and sensible controls, it was like spending a night in a five-star hotel.

Even though this is destined to be a relatively short relationship, this was a first sleepover to remember.

MAZDA CX-3 S-TOURING AWD

Date acquired: November 2015 Price as tested: $31,324 This month: 843km @ 8.0L/100km Overall: 2932km @ 8.6L/100km a m Overa

You canít stop the music

After enduring a series of cars bereft of CD players Ė a trend Iím yet to embrace Ė I was thrilled to find one in the CX-3 because I have dozens of unplayed discs and the car is my place for quality listening time. I was therefore distraught when, after getting to play just one disc, the unit simply refused to read another. In classic computer style, though, a simple Ďrebootí did the trick and we were grooving again on the return trip. Phew!